An Interview With Natural

So who is Natural? He is a naturally talented musician who comes from Atlanta but now lives in LA and New York City when he is not traveling the world with R’n’ B artist Usher. He was first hired as a guitar player for Usher and came in just doing the guitar parts that were already recorded on the record. But has been fortunate to where as the whole team grew and progressed, and everybody’s explaining his or her rules, he’s been able to come up as well. Not only just doing the guitar parts, but now more on the creative side, whether it is on the album, or the tour, or the television shows, putting the arrangements together along with his other band mates Valdez, Riley, Dmd.

We caught up with Natural just before his world tour to ask him a few questions. He is using the HD-147 with a 4x12 cab and the newly released Variax Acoustic. I would also like to add that he was the first to debut the guitar on the Tonight Show getting plenty of air time!

Line 6: As I was sitting and listening to the rehearsal, I noticed these guys are real players. It’s refreshing to hear a band that plays great and kicks ass.

Natural: Yeah, really the best of the best. Valdez is, as far as in this kind musical realm, he is known as, as far as synth goes, one of the top synth bass players. And all of them, everybody, it’s always like that. For this gig, you have to be ready for anything, because Usher is such a creative artist, and he is so impulsive, that he’ll want to go anywhere at anytime…

Honestly, we have gone through so many keyboard players, drummers and others, because they can’t hang. You know, you’ve got to be able to hang. I’ll give you an instance. For the last DVD that we did, the Usher Evolution 8701, right before the DVD was filmed, like were rolling for the DVD, its time to do the DVD now. In my in-ear monitor I hear Usher say, “Natural”, and I say, “What’s up?” and he asks, “Do you know the national anthem?” and I said “Ya”. Then he said, “Play it”. I said “What, just play it?”. He responded, “Start the show with it”. I said “Now?” and then he said, “Go”. If I had said ya, and I was lying, I would have been stuck out there.

I ended up playing the national anthem, and it became the intro to the DVD, on the fly. It’s one of those situations where you have to be ready for anything, and it ended up being a very memorable moment. But it was like “wow”, you have to really be ready for anything.

Line 6: Never a dull moment

Natural: Never a dull moment. This is our last day, and we’re still going at it, until the last minute.

Line 6: Tell me about the Gospel record that your did

Natural: With Israel and New Breed?

Line 6: Yes

Natural: It’s the number 1 Gospel album on Billboard right now. It’s called “Live from Another Level”. They are an amazing Gospel group. I do a lot of session work, whether it be rock sessions, R&B, jazz, or whatever, and I also do a lot of Gospel stuff. That’s where I got my start, was in the church, on a Gospel album. So these guys are actually based out of Texas, and they are from all over the place, but based out of Texas. Just through friends we hooked up and in my off time I’ve been doing a lot of touring with them. We did this album in November, recorded it in a day, all live. It came out great. Now it’s the number 1 album on Billboard right now.

Line 6: So how did you get introduced to Line6? Where did you hear of us?

Natural: You know what, I’ll be completely honest with you. I used to use Mesa Boogie, and pedals, and all that stuff. We were getting ready to do a European tour with Usher. I had already done a European tour; we were doing a second European tour. I was using Mesa Boogie, Heartbreaker, and all that stuff. I wanted to use something else. Something that looked cooler; I know the Hughes & Kettner glows…

Line 6: Like the HD 147

Natural: Yeah. Exactly. So I go to Guitar Center in Atlanta. I had heard of Line 6, and I knew the POD; but I was like ‘whatever’, it’s not real stuff, but I was just ignorant to it. So I had been there trying the Marshall’s, Hughes & Kettner’s, the Soldano’s, whatever, all this stuff, but it wasn’t sounding like I wanted it to. I hear in the distance, this dude playing, he is probably like a 15 year old kid, playing Metallica riffs and Ozzy Osborne stuff. The distortion was killin. It was so crisp and warm. I was like what amp is he using, what pedal. So I go over there and I see this kid playing a Flextone II. I was like Oh shit. Then I was like, O.K. let me just wait. So he finally finished his thing and left, and I got a guitar and plugged it in. I was so amazed. I called the guy over; I think I was with Usher, or James, Usher’s little brother. I was asking the guy, and he was helpful because I think he knew who we were. He said, “ O.K., I’m going to get you in contact with the regional rep”, and I guess that’s the guy that got us in contact with each other… That’s what it was; after a whole day of comparing…

Line 6: That 15-year-old kid…

Natural: Yeah. He blew everything that I was doing away sound wise, out the water. You can program, I didn’t know you could do all this, you can program the stuff, you can save your presets, you can add effects. I was like man. And then the strides you guys have made, is so far ahead of everything, it’s so simplified. I have a HD 147, and at some point I’ll probably get another one just for the look, or whatever. I also have a Flextone II back there, a Flextone III, I have a POD. So I have multiple backups in case an amp blew out. You started me out with a POD Pro, and the effect modelers. So the first American tour we did, I just used that direct, and everyone was like ‘Oh, you must have this and you must’, and I was like no, what you see is what I have. That blew people away. Honestly that got a lot of people that I knew into Line 6, and they started buying the stuff. I know so many guys on tour now, that after finding out what I use, now they’re getting everything. It’s funny to me, but they hear how good it sounds…They’re like “O.K., well I have these 25 pedals, and 4 amps, and I still cant sound as good as this guy with this one thing”

That’s basically why I stayed with it. With the Variax, it just blew me away. Especially with this gig you get a lot of songs with acoustic guitar. Either hip hop songs where they sample acoustic, you have to sound close to that to play with the track, or sometimes you have to sound very full and warm, and with that I have a full range. If we want to be creative, for example, like we have on Stagger (?), we have a Middle Eastern dance break and we use a Sitar, and everybody’s like “Oh it’s great”. The Variax is completely flexible, in any creative situation be able to hit it authentically.

Line 6: So, I am guessing the Front of House guy we met earlier is loving the Variax Acoustic

Natural: Yeah, the first time he heard it was when we did the show for Leno. Ricky Minor was there, because he does stuff with us sometimes, Leno’s crew, Boris, and everybody. The first thing I did was start playing some Reggae, and they were blown away. They thought it had such a great acoustic sound. They were saying, “Oh that guitar sounds great, what is it, Line 6, wow wow”. Then I switched it to nylon, and they were like ‘Oh shit’. Then Leno’s band, Kevin Eubanks’s people were like, “what is that? That’s a nylon string too? And this and that?” And the Sitar, and before you know it, the whole crowd is around asking questions. That’s when you go, O.K. this thing is…

Line 6: It’s working!

Natural: Yeah, it’s going to create some waves soon.

Line 6: Right. We are proud that you debuted it on national T.V.

Natural: Yeah, I’m proud too. I know it’s going to blow up. In a matter of time, everybody is going to be using them, they have to use them, for acoustic guitars and stuff like that. One day there is going to be so many Variax’s, are copycats, and can say I was the first one to play one on national T.V.

Honestly, Line 6 has helped my career, as far as tonality. I can do session work or be on the road, and with the POD and the Variax, I can do all kinds of different stuff, and while I’m on tour. It just gives me the most versatile setup.

Line 6: Do you plan on doing some recording in Europe?

Natural: In Europe, no because I’m going to be so busy over there, but as soon as I get back. I get called all the time for sessions. So once we hit the stage and start touring, we’ll just have a Digi 002 Pro Tools setup, a POD, a Variax…

Line 6: A DSL wireless…

Natural: What I usually have them do is have them send me drives. Fed Ex me a drive with all your tracks. I’ll just do my overdubs, and give a lot of variations of what you want. You can pick and choose, and then I send it back. Then they send me the drive and a check. When they do the stuff and the check clears, then you get your drive back, and were happy. You know what I mean?

Line 6: [Laugh] As soon as the check clears, you get your drive back.

Natural: Yeah, exactly.

Line 6: That’s a good way to do it.

Natural: Yeah man.

Line 6: So what patches do you use on the Variax Acoustic?

Natural: On the Variax I use the jumbo, I like the parlor, of course the nylon string, the Sitar, the C&W, and the dread ones. I use it because each song has a different sound. I try to match it I think that’s what a lot… that’s one of the things I learned from guys like Michael Thompson.

Line6: Right

Natural: He’s like, if it sounds like something, use what they use. So, in the case of the Variax, instead of me having a Gibson, a Guild, a Martin, or this or that, it’s already there. Then he can mix me in to where it sounds good enough, it’s cool.

No matter where you live, you can catch Natural on the road with Usher, at some point over the next couple of years.